Five questions you should ask to make sense of the university application figures

Tomorrow the first UCAS application figures for this year are officially published, with some leaked figures having appeared in the Sunday Times today. Superficially the headline figures are not great with an apparent 10% drop. But I’m holding off forming a view until I’ve seen the full figures, because there are five key questions to ask about the figures:

1. Some courses, such as medicine, tend to have much earlier application deadlines than those for other courses. Are applications for those early closing courses dropping (which would indicate a problem) or is it that early applications for courses with later deadlines are dropping (which would indicate people taking more time to decide this year and so still an open question)?

2. What is the social breakdown of any changes? An widely held but rarely tested assumption in the debates over university finance has been that potential students from less well off hosueholds are going to be more put off by the new fees scheme, and in particularly the large nominal debt figures, than those from better off households. However, when you look at actual repayment levels (and bear in mind the writing off of unpaid debt), those from the least well off households generally should find the new scheme more attractive. Which is turning out to be the case?

3. How do the figures compare not only to last year but years prior to that, bearing in mind that last year has a pre-fees bulge?

4. Is the change in applications in England any different from that in Scotland? If it is, then tuition fees can be pointed to as the cause. If it isn’t, then it is something else.

5. And finally, when comparing figures, how do they look when counted not in simple numbers but as a proportion of the 18 year old population? That’s relevant as if I understand the population figures correctly, the number of 18 year olds is dropping.

Or in other words, expects lots of dramatic statements about the figures, a large number of which will be wrong. Which are wrong will depend on the answers to these questions.

6 responses to “Five questions you should ask to make sense of the university application figures”

  1. Yeah I know….we had a Uni Undergrad Open day yesterday , which was well attended, the Uni made an announcement about £3K scholarships! I've got a lot of contacts , so am not worried about work!

  2. I support the view that it is better to wait until the actual University application numbers are known before an informed view can be understood, instead of leaping to conclusions of a perceived `drop-off' of 10% due to tuition fees.

    It is important that sixth formers, in future years, who work hardest to gain the appropriate University entrance offers actually are awarded places and recognition.

    Many schools these days, take pupils on visits to Universities from Year 9, so that they can get a `taster' of where and what subjects they need to study and results required, to earn a place on 3/4 degree programmes or vocational qualifications.

    I would also ask as to parliamentary timetable and delivery and estimate of the help provided to the least off 10% students as a result of the 30 recommendations made to Government of the excellent researched `Access to Higher Education' report by Simon Hughes MP?

  3. I also agree, we should wait until the full facts are known. The problem with our media is that it speculates before the event with a "don't let the true stand in the way of a good story" attitude. the problem being that people remember the speculation not the facts thus leaving us "factually unencumbered".

  4. Also, I would like some idea of how many of last year's applicants didn't actually get a place, ie. even if there were a drop, what is the number of applicants compared to the number of available places. Then at some point someone should look at drop-out rates. There is a whole mix of questions to do with why people have been opting for uni instead of something else. The bit which would really worry me would be a big drop in applications from lower income backgrounds. But absolute numbers are not good because the cohort is smaller this year (1.5% fewer in the 6th form I think), plus you have to throw mature students into the mix, AND all those people that last year applied for this year in order to avoid fee increases.

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